Principle #5: The Poles are experiencing the effects of climate change at an accelerating rate

  • 5A-1: Scientists predict the Arctic will be largely free of sea ice during the summer months within 30 years.
  • 5A-2: The receding ice cover affects the Arctic food webs and the global ocean circulation, however, the long-term impacts are unclear.
  • 5A-3:  Melting sea ice does not contribute to sea level rise. This ice is already floating in/on the water, therefore the water level stays the same as sea ice melts.
  • 5B-1: Antarctic and Southern Ocean air temperatures are predicted to rise in the future, threatening ice stability.
  • 5C-1: Antarctic ice shelves are floating extensions of the land ice.  They are critical to ice stability in Antarctica, forming a buttress to hold back the ice behind them.  Antarctica is surrounded by ~45 ice shelves that are susceptible to a warming atmosphere and ocean.
  • 5C-2: The warming Southern Ocean flows close to the WAP, causing melting at the ice shelves and the base of glaciers. This accelerates the WAP glacier melt and collapse.
  • 5C-3: Increased glacial melt affects the WAP food web.
  • 5D-1: Increased precipitation, falling as snow or rain, can affect Polar animals.
    • 5D-1a: In Antarctica, Adelie penguins’ breeding can be disrupted by heavy snow cover and unseasonable rains.
    • 5D-1b: In the Arctic, precipitation is predicted to increase by 20% by the end of the century, mostly in the form of rain.  Increased rain will further melt snow, ice and permafrost, restricting land animals nesting sites and ability to forage.  Increased rain will also cause “freshening” of the ocean water, which will impact the marine ecosystem.
  • 5E-1: The amount of water frozen to create the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets and glaciers helps regulate our current sea level.
  • 5E-2: Sea-level rise is caused by melting ice sheets and glaciers, combined with the thermal expansion of seawater as the ocean warms.
  • 5E-3: Global coastlines are home to 80% of the world’s population, which are being threatened by sea-level rise.
  • 5E-4: Many Polar species will face migration, adaption, death or extinction in a changing climate.
  • 5F-1: Decreasing ice cover in the Polar Regions will result in emerging geopolitical issues including: increased military presence, territorial boundary/sovereign rights issues, exploration and harvesting of natural resources (animal and mineral), increased tourism, failing infrastructure and more.
  • 5F-2: The increasing human presence in the Polar Regions compounds existing concerns (pollution, overuse of fragile infrastructure, harvesting resources).

Scientist Spotlight

Related Resources

  • Polar Data Stories – Interactive online actives featuring cool Polar research and data.
  • I.D. Antarctica – Photographic mysteries of Antarctic animals for students to investigate.
  • Project Swarm – A curriculum of lessons and data activities for middle and high school students featuring the influences of warming on the food web interactions between phytoplankton, krill and penguins

The Polar Literacy Principles outline essential concepts to improve public understanding of these critical and sensitive ecosystems.